Stay informed with the
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski

# Baccarat card counting and stacked symbols

8 June 2014

QUESTION: You’ve written about baccarat having a low house edge, and so I gave it a try. I found it boring. The cards are all played out by rule, you don’t get to decide whether to hit or stand. The other players seemed really into it, so maybe it’s just me.

What did intrigue me was that players were tracking the hands on paper. The casino even provided scoresheets. It’s a card game with a long time between shuffles. Couldn’t it be counted, like blackjack? This casino obviously wasn’t afraid of counting, so I guess not.

ANSWER: Baccarat can be counted, but the count doesn’t give the player an edge in any practical way.

This is one of those questions that pops into my e-mail box occasionally, but it’s been several years since I last tackled it.

The late Peter Griffin, mathematician and author of “The Theory of Blackjack,” calculated that a card counter who doesn’t bet unless the count give him an edge can squeeze out an edge of 0.7 percent over the casino. However, he’d play only about three hands per eight hours. Are you up to that waiting game? I’m not, and I daresay the casino would rather not waste a seat on a player who goes hours at a time without making a bet.

Griffin also wrote that if a baccarat card counter focused on the tie bet, it was possible to get a 24 percent edge on the last six cards of an eight-deck shoe, provided all the cards were dealt out. Think about that. If the casino dealt all cards -- which it doesn’t -- you’d be biding your time through eight decks dealt at a maximum of six cards per hand in order to play just the last hand. And if the casino cuts just half a deck out of play, your edge on that last hand shrinks to eight hundredths of a percent.

It’s no wonder many casino provide baccarat scoresheets. They have nothing to fear from counters in a game that is essentially a game of luck, a weighted coin flip brought to the card table.

QUESTION: I had a really fun win on a penny game. It had stacked symbols, where the same symbol repeats for a number of spaces and can fill a whole column. I got five stacked wilds, and I won 40,000 credits! That’s \$400, and I was just betting 40 cents, one penny per line! I know that’s not a ton of money, but what a feeling. I still get butterflies, telling about it.

Those stacked games seem really hit and miss though. I can go a long time without winning anything, but then I win something pretty big.

ANSWER: Congrats on the win! I know just what you mean. Having the same symbol fill the whole screen and watching the credit meter rise are big parts of what makes these games popular.

Stacked symbols help designers add volatility to video slots. They open up the possibility of big wins, and not only when the stacked symbols fill the entire screen. If you have the same stack on the first three reels, then you’re going to get three-of-a-kind wins not once, not twice, but 40 times on a 40-line game. Even one stack, combined with single symbols of the same kind, can lead to multiple-line wins.

The downside is that the stacks can disrupt other potential winning combinations. If I have matching symbols on the first two reels, the last thing I want to see is a non-matching stack on Reel No. 3. It leads to the feeling that I’ve had only one chance to match my pair, instead of the three I’d get with three different symbols on the third reel.

That’s just a feeling, though. The game is still being played out on a random number generator, and if the RNG has determined the symbols on Reel No. 3 aren’t going to match my first two, it doesn’t really make any difference whether they’re the same non-winning symbol or three different ones.
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.